Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Grasping at things is surely delusion.
According with sameness is still not enlightenment.
     These lines form the next stanza of Sandokai I’ll be talking about.
In the past I’ve given a couple of talks on the Zen concept of “Not one, not two.” It’s a tricky notion to take hold of, but it keeps recurring within Zen, which means it’s significant.
I am holding up two fingers. If I take away one finger, one finger remains. Two fingers are really one finger twice. One finger is half of two fingers.
Not two, not one. Not one, not two.
Some people can’t seem to get a handle on “Not one, not two,” but they also can’t seem to get away from it. So, here it comes again in the context of Sandokai’s words on grasping.
Inside yourself and outside yourself may seem like two different ideas. This singing bowl may appear to be an object of its own, entirely separate from you. But this bowl already is present in your mind.
The bowl over here. The bowl in our minds. Two different things, right? Of course there is only one real bowl that I can strike to bring out its potential to sing. But in my mind I am striking the bowl, and in my mind I am hearing it sing.
Which bowl is authentic?
Which bowl is more real, this one or the one in my mind?
Not one, not two.
Does this mean only one bowl exists? Does it mean both bowls exist? Does it mean neither bowl exists?
I hope your mind is being hard-pressed right now.
Suzuki Roshi suggested that our presuming that things exist outside of ourselves, totally independent of us, is a dualistic, shallow understanding not only of the external world but also of ourselves.
The first line of tonight’s stanza of Sandokai reminds us that grasping at things is delusion.
“Grasping” implies clinging, hanging onto.
“Delusion” implies make-believe, fallacy, a misleading notion.
Suzuki Roshi mentions that when you understand each thing is different, you tend to see each thing as something special, and that may cause you to cling to all things or certain things. He warned his followers not to stick to beings, or ideas, or even to the teachings of the Buddha.
Remember the Zen saying, “If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him.”
That means not to get hung up on the Buddha or anything else.
Sometimes you may hear a person say that he or she is enlightened. To say this is very—in modern lingo—uncool. It means that person is clinging to some concept of awakening. And that concept is usually a misconception, a delusion.
To quote Suzuki Roshi directly (Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness): “Enlightenment is not something about which you can say there is or there is not.”
Enlightenment—or awakening—is not something to stick to. It’s something you experience.
A person who is awakened doesn’t ignore things, and yet doesn’t attach to things, physically or emotionally.
Again, I have to add a proviso. Being committed to one’s parent, or to one’s spouse, or to one’s child, is not attachment. It is devotion and dedication.
But if you are committed so forcefully to a loved one that you don’t allow them to be themselves, you are attached. And that is not healthy.
I have a married friend who is devoted to his wife. He is so attentive, so solicitous, and so caring, that often she has to tell him to back off, to give her room to breathe.
That is possession of another person. It’s the clinging desire to be in control. And that is not healthy.
So, what’s the answer?
I don’t have the answer. I don’t even know the question. As Woody Allen said, “'Only God can make a tree, probably because it's so hard to figure out how to get the bark on.”
Actually, the Zen answer is awareness. Awareness of everything, including yourself.
Not one, not two.
None other than you has the answer.
I’ll wind down this talk with a couple of other quotes, these from Rikyu, the noted Japanese tea master who enjoyed a simple life in the 1500s. He lived effortlessly, and he said that to make tea you need one kettle; to possess many utensils is foolish.
He also said:
“How much does a person lack himself, who feels the need to be attached to so many things?”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jack, thanks for keeping us humble.

Thursday, January 20, 2011 10:48:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home